Where Are the Great Smoky Mountains? What Will You Find?

Posted by Darryl Payne in National Park

It's home to the largest old-growth forest east of the Mississippi... the densest Black Bear population in the Eastern U.S…. and the widest variety of salamanders outside of the tropics.

Scenic overlook in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

It's America's Great Smoky Mountain Range, part of the legendary Appalachians. And each year it attracts more than 20 million visitors from all over the globe.

Yet few people know all the fascinating facts surrounding this fabled mountain range. Here are just a few intriguing "nuggets," which may help explain the Smokies' appeal.

Location, Location, Location

Stretching along the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains extend from the Pigeon River in the northeast to the Little Tennessee River in the southwest. All told, they cover more than 800 square miles (over 520,000 acres), including more than 80 famous hiking trails. And most of that area lies within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most-visited national park in America.

Mountain stream in summer in the park

Plenty of Southern Hospitality

Throughout the Smokies you'll find many scenic towns, all of them well worth visiting. The two most famous, of course, are Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, adjacent communities in the Tennessee Smokies.

Pigeon Forge is home to world-famous Dollywood, one of the most popular theme parks in America, drawing roughly 2.5 million visitors each year. The town also boasts other popular sites, such as The Island theme park, the Titanic Museum, Dolly's Stampede, and the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Show.

Hatfield & McCoy rolling advertisement in downtown Gatlinburg

Nearby Gatlinburg also offers loads of attractions, ranging from a towering Space Needle (with panoramic views) to Ober Gatlinburg, a world-class ski resort. Plus, it's the main Tennessee entrance to the National Park.

Cherokee Lodge Condos in Pigeon Forge

Both Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg provide a wide range of accommodations, from elegant 5-star hotels to rustic cabins, inns, and chalets. You'll even find affordable luxury condos, such as Cherokee Lodge Condominiums in Pigeon Forge.

The Road Less Traveled

Beyond Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, you'll find other mountain communities, less well known but still wonderful. Be sure to check out:

  • Sevierville, Dolly Parton's actual hometown – don't miss the Dolly Parton Statue and the Rainforest Adventure Zoo!
  • Wears Valley, which provides an alternative, unofficial entrance to the National Park (along with popular attractions like Goats on the Roof and the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster)
  • Townsend, offering yet another Park entrance... along with natural beauty, peace & quiet, river tubing, and Tuckaleechee Caverns

Farther afield, in the North Carolina Smokies, you'll find the charming historic town of Cherokee, where you can shop for handcrafted Native American baskets, pottery, weavings, jewelry, carvings, and much more. Down the road apiece, there's Bryson City, with stunning scenery, popular eateries, and exceptional shopping.

Flora and Fauna Galore

At their highest point (Clingmans Dome), the Smokies tower nearly a mile above the foothills. Between top and bottom – from cooler peaks to warmer lowlands – you'll find multiple elevations, with a wide variety of microclimates supporting countless plants and animals.

In fact, the Smokies host so many habitats and species that they're officially considered part of an International Biosphere Reserve. Among other things, these breathtaking mountains support:

  • 187,000 acres of precious old-growth forest
  • America's largest stand of Southern Appalachian spruce fir
  • Roughly 1,500 black bears – about two per square mile
  • Over 1,500 kinds of flowering plants – more than in any other U.S. national park
  • Approximately 240 species of birds
  • Over 30 species of salamanders and 14 species of frogs and toads
  • 67 species of fish
  • The only fireflies outside southeast Asia that synchronize their annual mating "flashes"
  • Plus plenty of deer, bunnies, foxes, squirrels, chipmunks, turtles, and more

Water, Water Everywhere

With more than 2,100 miles of rushing streams and rivers, the Great Smoky Mountain Range is truly a sportsman's paradise. Famous waterways include the Little Pigeon River, with its three separate tributaries or "prongs"; the sparkling Little River; Abrams Creek, Hazel Creek, and Eagle Creek; and Roaring Fork near Gatlinburg.

Unlike some lowland Southern streams, which can be silty and muddy, these mountain creeks are crystal-clear, with frothing swirls and eddies babbling over rocks and boulders. Many streams teem with native trout and small-mouth bass. And several – such as Little Pigeon River – are popular sites for tubing, rafting, and kayaking.

Then there are the waterfalls. In all, you'll find more than 100 impressive falls throughout the Great Smoky Mountain Range – from 20-foot Abrams Falls to 100-foot Ramsey Cascades, the tallest falls in the National Park. Many are accessible via scenic hiking trails that range in difficulty from easy to strenuous.

Rainbow Falls Trail in the National Park

More Than 90 Historic Structures (Including Homesteads Listed on the National Historic Register)

Along with all their natural wonders, the Smokies are famous for their fascinating pioneer buildings, including 19th-century log cabins, barns, churches, schoolhouses, and even grist mills. More than 90 structures have been meticulously restored by the National Park Service as a testament to the region's rich heritage. You'll find some of the best-preserved examples in Cades Cove and along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

Visit and See for Yourself

Remember, the best way to learn more about the Smokies is to see them "in person." So, pack up the car, gather the family, and head to the mountains today!



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